You lovely tease, you! Serene one day, in your white gown and jewels of ice, angry and fierce the next. Why must you be so harsh? For as much as I love a beautiful canvas of pure white snow, you catch me in your frozen, unforgiving grasp and breathe over me in numbing gusts of wind, piercing my face and hands. January, you are the most difficult month of the year for me. I must admit, though, that I have it pretty good here. While, in other parts of the world, you are infinitely grey with endless rain, here the sun shines down on you nearly every single day. Even your morning snowstorms are often met with cloudless sunsets, and for that, January, I forgive your impetuous nature.
What I miss more than anything this time of year are the colours. Green, in particular. It’s my favourite, but it’s first to go at Winter’s arrival. I try to compensate by bringing as much nature inside as possible – plants in every window, fresh flowers on the tables and, of course, the most colorful fruits and vegetables. Someone once said, “The color of springtime is wildflowers; the color of winter is our imaginations.” However, the color of winter could be what I have right here in the kitchen. Ruby radishes, rainbow chard, sunny butternut squash and luscious blood oranges. Winter’s produce is the cure for January’s demoralizing chill! And thank goodness for that because I don’t think I could make it through these long, frozen months without it.
Blood orange season is painfully short, so I buy them whenever I can. I tossed them with olive oil and fresh mint, add them to salads, I love a slice in my afternoon tea, and I roast them with chicken and dates. Then there’s this tart that we cannot get enough of! I’ve made it several times in just a few weeks. It’s so simple and satisfyingly creamy. And, because it’s not overly sweet, and packs a good Vitamin C punch, it quickly became a favourite of my children for their after school snack.
“Are you baking anything today?” they often ask in the car on the way to school.
“What are you thinking?” I reply, to which they point out that the there are still a few plump oranges in the bowl on the table.
“You read my mind.” I might say.
This tart is perfectly good without any adornment at all, but the candied oranges take it to the next level. They do need to be prepared at least one day in advance, though, but the recipe is simple – just blanch and simmer in a sugar syrup – and they will keep in the fridge for a week or two.
Notes on making tart crust:
- There are many recipes out there for making shortcrust pastry in the food processor. If you have a reliable recipe, by all means, use it. I prefer to make it by hand, though, and here’s why: Making dough, for me, is a very tactile activity. I rely more on the way it feels between my fingers than on the amounts of ingredients listed in the recipe. The consistency of the dough is very much influenced by the weather and the environment on the day you make it. If it is especially dry, like it often is here in Colorado, the flour will absorb more water. If it’s humid, the dough will require less. The only way to know for sure is to feel it. The dough should hold together easily, but not be, in the least bit, sticky. If it’s sticky, add a dusting of flour. Likewise, if the dough crumbles or doesn’t hold together when you press it in your hands, add a few more drops of water. As the dough rests in the refrigerator, the flour will continue to absorb the water and the dough will become more uniform in texture.
- Adding vinegar to the water in the dough will soften it, making it flaky and light.
- Placing the uncooked dough in the freezer for 30 minutes before baking will prevent it from shrinking in the oven.
Other recipes like this:
Sicilian Blood Orange Tart
A traditional Italian tart with a creamy filling made of Sicilian blood oranges and topped with bittersweet candied orange slices. This seasonal recipe combines some of winter’s best flavours with colours that will brighten up any January afternoon.
for the crust:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
8 TBSP cold butter, cut into cubes
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup ice water
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
for the filling:
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. zest from the blood oranges
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
To make the crust, combine the water and vinegar and set aside. Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is well mixed and the size of small peas. Add the water a little at a time and continue mixing until the dough comes together (you may not need to use all the water.) Form the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
Butter an 11-inch (28 cm) tart pan. Set aside. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a circle that is large enough to fit the pan. Carefully transfer the dough to the pan. Trim the excess. Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes to chill.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Line the chilled dough with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove the parchment and weights and prick the crust all over with a fork. Continue baking for another 8 – 10 minutes until it just starts to turn golden.
Remove the tart shell from the oven and lower the heat to 350 F (180 C). Let the tart shell cool slightly before filling.
To make the filling, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow. Strain the orange juice through a sieve into the egg yolk mixture. Whisk in the cream, zest, vanilla and salt until smooth. Pour into the shell. Set the tart shell on a sheet pan and bake until the filling is set, 30 – 35 minutes. The filling will still be a bit wobbly but will firm up while it cools.
Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, top with candied oranges.
Candied Blood Oranges
2 blood oranges, washed
3/4 cup sugar
1 – 2 TBSP vanilla sugar
Slice the oranges thinly (approx. 1/4 inch or 6 mm). Place in a medium sauce pan and cover with cool water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water. Rinse the pan. To the pan, mix 3/4 cup sugar with 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the mixture bubbles, carefully lay in the orange slices, in one or two layers. Simmer gently, turning the oranges occasionally so they cook evenly, for 30 – 40 minutes, until the syrup is very thick and coats the oranges. Remove the oranges to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Allow to cool and dry for several hours. When the oranges are cool but still sticky, dredge them in the vanilla sugar. Place back on the parchment and let set over night to dry. Store the oranges, covered loosely, in the refrigerator until ready to use.